Diggin’ Through the Crates: Lupe Fiasco “Mural”

Song: “Mural”

Artist: Lupe Fiasco

Album: Tetsuo & Youth

Lyric: “I run the Gambit like I’m throwing cards/From popular mechanics to overdosing hearts/Paint cold pictures like Nova Scotia landscapes/Nerd game make Mandelbrot sets when we handshake”

Character Reference/Meaning:

“Digging Through the Crates” is finally back! What better way to ring in the return of “DTC” with a track off Lupe Fiasco’s new album, Tetsuo & Youth. Through the years, Lupe Fiasco has earned a reputation as a complex wordsmith, a conscious rapper who isn’t afraid to speak what’s on his mind, and above all, a BIG FAT NERD. This is not Lupe’s first time getting covered in DTC (See “Lightwork” and “Lupe Back”), and it will definitely not be his last. From Tetsuo‘s Metal Gear Solid (“Adoration of the Magi”) and Breaking Bad (“Deliver”) lines to the numerous anime references throughout his career, Lupe is well-versed at all things geek. The quotable we are focusing on today is this gem from the album opener “Mural,” referring to Marvel’s Gambit.

Gifted with the ability to transfer kinetic energy to physical objects, Remy LaBeau was created by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee during their early 90’s run on X-Men. Gambit aligns himself with the good guys, but he isn’t necessarily referred to as a “good guy.” Remy’s past is a murky one; raised by a roaming band of thieves, he never knew any life but the streets, and robbing to survive was never a strange concept to him. He became notoriously good at thieving, fighting and cheating – I mean, it’s no coincidence that his arsenal of choice includes playing cards. However, Gambit’s “gift,” his mutant powers, kept him from fitting in with the group of criminals which were the closest thing to a family. If they were to find out, they would reject him – think he was a freak and would not understand his unique skill-set, or how it could benefit the Thieves’ Guild.

His eventual fall from grace in the group came in the form of a betrayal in the name of doing the right thing (Weapon X: First Class 2008), where he refused to give Nathaniel Essex (Mr. Sinister in disguise) old diaries and logs from the Weapon X program, he destroyed the documents to keep them out of dangerous hands. Gambit’s good will would continue to outweigh his past life of crime with altruistic acts like rescuing a young pre-Storm Ororo from The Shadow King (Uncanny X-Men, 1990). After joining the X-Men, his charm and hard work were enough to convince most of the team that he was on the right side, but hatin’ ass haters like Wolverine continued to ride him twice as hard as everyone else because he didn’t trust that Gambit was telling the truth about his past.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Every kid from the inner-city is threatened with the same treatment that Gambit got when joining the X-Men. In order for the kids in this environment to use their natural “gifts” to their full potential, whether they be intellectual or physical, there’s usually an inevitable separation from home that happens. For many, this could mean going to a better school or moving to a new city for a job; no matter the case, keeping true to yourself can become exponentially harder when those around you judge you for who you used to be. Even worse is trying to explain to those you called family that you don’t belong with them anymore. At the end of the day, joining the X-Men is a better life choice than the Thieves’ Guild, but that didn’t make it any easier for Remy to turn his back on them.


Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo and Youth Review

Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth Review

Album Specs

Tracks/Length: 16 tracks, 78:27

Notable Guest Appearances: Nikki Jean (“Little Death,” “No Scratches,” and “Madonna”), Guy Sebastian (“Blur My Hands”), Ab-Soul (“T.R.O.N.”)

Album Genre/Tone: Conscious rap, heavy on instrumentals and complex lyrics

Lead Single: Numerous songs that never made the album. Surprise! However, “Old School Love” was probably the most recognizable.

Purchase on Amazon.


Review Scale:

The mythical A+: Pretty much the best eargasm you’ve ever experienced. This is the album you will be listening to when you are sixty and your grandchildren will be judging you for.

A: All you need to appreciate this album is two ears connected to a heart. Whether it’s the deeper message, the prolific beats or memorable lyrics, everybody should be listening to this record.

B: If you like the genre, then you will love this album. You might keep it on repeat for a month, but it will eventually find itself in the bowels of your shuffle list. Hardcore fans of the artist will disagree with this rating, but it can be considered more niche than universally acceptable.

C: There are a solid tracks, but it’s really only worth a few rotations as a complete package. Those not into the genre probably shouldn’t even bother. It’s the musical equivalent of a sad handjob.

DThis album fails, in most aspects, to make a good or lasting impression. However, some out there might find joy in it, if even for only a few songs. 

F: The only thing this album is good for is to make your ears bleed. You should steal every copy of this album and throw them all into a fire for a sacrifice ceremony meant to disband the demons living in the CD. And I say steal because it is obviously not worth the money. Or it would make a great gift for your enemies.


History Behind the Album

Lupe Fiasco is no stranger to controversy. Through the last few years, various Twitter beefs (whether they were actually full of animosity or not) and off-putting political comments have made Lupe somewhat of an outcast in the Hip Hop community. Even us here at Hush, who have been Friends of the People since “Touch the Sky” were beginning to waver in our support for the Chicago artist after the years of oddity. Hell, we even put our The Cool-themed group tattoo on hold. Lupe had become bigger than the words he spit, but rather he became the voice of the people. That’s a heavy burden for anybody in their late 20’s (he is now 32) to carry, especially when he was having to fight his own label, Atlantic Records, to put out the same music that got him that acclaim in the first place.

The relationship Lupe had with Atlantic was a doomed one from the start. Inked in 2005, Lupe signed at a time when the era of pushing an artist to create quality albums was coming to a close – just before the explosion of independent artists, viral video A&R and the comeback of one-hit wonders would become norm for the industry. What followed were outcries of apathy and angst surrounded the release of the albums that followed The Cool, openly accepted as modern day classics in the Hip-Hop community for anybody with two ears connected to a brain. Lasers and The Great American Rap Album had some solid tracks that are still on rotation, but you could almost feel the heart soul that was missing from the records; plus, the depression of being enslaved to his record label, Atlantic Records, had begun to affect his passion for making music. It was like they took away his voice – and just left his Instrumental.

Fast forward to Tetsuo & Youth, the highly anticipated, and LAST album on Lupe’s contract. While the album has been shrouded in mystery (and nearly a year of release delays), Lupe has released upwards of ten tracks in steady of the delays – most notably of which, “Old School Love,” was a radio-made hit with blooming sensation Ed Sheeran. Strangely enough, none of these tracks compiled in the past year and some change made the cut. None of the features (Rick Ross, Big K.R.I.T., Chris Brown) made the album, either. Was this Lupe just reverting further into his shell or was he just starting from scratch? Lupe might be bruised from all his attacks, but in order to shut critics up, he needs to do it with his music, not through Twitter. I’m betting One Ring to Rule Them All that Lupe can get back to his super-lyrical roots and unabashed social commentary that made him beloved on his first album, close the gates of Mordor and return to the Shire with Tetsuo & Youth.


What You’re in For

After four studio albums and witnessing the rise and fall of Lupe Fiasco, Tetsuo & Youth may be the the most appropriate way for Lupe to break free of Atlantic Records and show the world what is to come. With Tetsuo & Youth being his fifth studio album, it is quite possible that Hip-Hop is seeing Lupe for who he truly wants to be as an artist. With his first two albums, I believe we saw the Lupe who wanted to enter Hip-Hop strong and produced track off of the life he knew. Contrasting to his first two albums, the next two appeared to be a Lupe who lost passion due to contract restraints which in turn forced a misrepresentation of character.  However, this album shows Lupe’s balance. Be wary though, this album is not for individuals looking for street jamz, protest music, or simple lyrics. Tetsuo & Youth is pretty much an entire album of “Dumb it Down”-esque songs. If you don’t like to think when listening to music, then this is not for you; however, do not let that deter you from the quality it offers.

Above all, the word that would describe Lupe on this album is “comfortable.” There is no more need for him to be the young kid he was, or the outspoken conscious rapper he came to be. He has matured and I believe is finally allowing fans to view his “art.” Tetsuo & Youth offers a mixture of street and conscious tracks like, “They.Resurrect.Over.New (TRON)” which speaks upon substance abuse, and “Prisoner 1&2,” a track that outlines the similarities of prisoners and guards – how they are both trapped. The soulful “Little Death” featuring long-time collaborator Nikki Jean is another reason that this album excels at being Lupe, while still offering something new to long-time fans. The album is not without its missteps, though, as the lead single (of songs that actually made the album) “Deliver” takes a promising concept and makes it all too literal, which can be hard to take seriously. Also, the group track “Chopper” is nearly nine minutes of entirely forgettable and misplaced features with artists that do not deserve to share a track with Lupe; what happened to All-City Chess Club (Asher Roth, B.o.B, The Cool Kids, Blu, J. Cole and others)?

Overall, the theme of Tetsuo seasons plays very well into the flow of the album, with the songs getting progressively “darker,” before getting more and more hopeful towards the tail-end tracks. Tetsuoa & Youth is the most complex and complete records that I have heard in years, and the fact that there is a whole other (FREE!) mixtape full of other tracks that did not make the album make this a subtle win for fans everywhere. After announcing that “ATLANTIC RECORDS won’t release the album until they get a ‘pop’ single” on his Instagram, it’s clear here that Lupe Fiasco is getting the last laugh with the record label that has tried to stunt his growth for years as he releases an album with no discernible “pop song” to fulfill their quota. Maybe Atlantic is tired of the struggle, or perhaps Lupe has pulled the wool over Atlantic’s eyes and has not yet seen the fallout from his actions; either way, the risk was worth it.

Songs On Repeat

“Blur My Hands” featuring Guy Sebastian

Lyrics to Go: “Were you just being polite with your hands?/And it really means I’m number one, and you’re a fan/Well that’s cool, cause I think you’re number one too”

If you don’t analyze the lyrics in this track, there is a good chance the whole concept will go over your head. However, once you understand exactly what Lupe is saying, the creativity is pure genius. This could be the greatest anti-hater track since “Dirt Off Your Shoulders.” To put a positive spin on the negativity and ill-will Lupe Fiasco gets (and let’s be honest, he gets a LOT), Lu imagines that all those middle fingers sent his way are just a unique way of telling him that he is number one? All of the middle fingers Lupe received, both literal and metaphorical, this whole time were they really just another way of saying, “Hey Lupe, you are number one, man!”


“Dots and Lines”

Lyrics to Go: “And your reflection is your connection to more collections of more directions and paths/If your reflection is a mask, then you’re reflective of mass”

Did you think Lupe Fiasco’s dislike for Atlantic Records had piqued? You would be wrong. Although many of his tracks focus on Atlantic, “Dots & Lines” may be the most telling. This song is a warning to future artists looking to find a record deal. The track explains how Lupe wishes he wouldn’t have signed the contract which took away half the person he is, and how he is counting down the days until he once again becomes an independent artist. Witnessing Lupe lose some of his creative freedom throughout his career has hurt both himself and his fans. It’s hard to listen to his second studio album, The Cool, and then his third studio album, Lasers, and believe they came from the same mind. The technical rhyme scheme and intricacy wasn’t apparent anymore. Yet, this has all changed after hearing this album. In order to understand “Dots & Lines,” you have to have a basic knowledge of mathematics. That’s how you know you’re listening to a Lupe Fiasco song – when you have to explain his lyrics using trigonometry. It’s obvious Lupe Fiasco covets nothing more than to be free of his contract, and if he plans to continue to make songs like these, then I hope he never signs another contract again.


“They.Resurrect.Over.New” featuring Ab-Soul & Tori

Lyrics to Go: “Medusa in the go/’Fore Versace turned words in to turquoise/Medusa turned coke into stone/With a hand on her thigh, she looked me in the eye and said/Proceed to the next level”

Only Lupe can create an entire song about drug use and have you so confused you think the song is about video games. If Eminem is a Rap God, that would make Lupe Fiasco Galileo. Only Lupe will make you want to sit down and read his lyrics just to try to understand what is happening. In case you were wondering, that is exactly what happened with, “They.Resurrect.Over.New (T.R.O.N.).” This is perhaps the most beautiful way to see the combination of “street” Lupe, and “activist” Lupe.  This song shows you that gritty side of the streets through a poets tongue. “TRON”  is Lupe demonstrating the artist he truly is. I believe with songs such as theses, we are witnessing the artist Lupe wants to be. Whether you see this song being about substance abuse or gateway drugs or how to proceed to the next level in Tron, this song will blow (haaa… get it?) your mind.


The Quick and Dirty

Grade: B

Most Hip Hop artists get credit for making this rap thing look easier; well, Lupe Fiasco gets credit for making rapping look very, very difficult. The rhyme scheme Lupe uses is most like a lyrical jigsaw puzzle, one that takes hours of attention to even hint at seeing the bigger picture. Tetsuo & Youth is not just an intellectually superior album, but one that musically complements the analytical style of rhymes that can be a little hard to digest at times. The beauty of each track’s instrumentals, coupled with the overall uplifting tone of the album, gives off the impression that Wasalu Jaco is finally at a place where he wants to be. Regardless of his troubles on social media, he has at least found peace on the mic, and the result is gorgeous.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib and Evan Lowe


Diggin’ Through the Crates: Lupe Fiasco “Lightwork”

Artist: Lupe Fiasco

Song: “Lightwork”

AlbumFriend of the People: I Fight Evil (2011), a mixtape that followed up his third studio album (Lasers). Free download here.

Lyric: “They wanna be fiascoes, reproduce his failures/Emperor is his alias, but not Marcus Aurelius/This is more like Sparta: kick you down a well, kid”

Character Reference/Meaning:

With the release of 300: Rise of an Empire, we felt that this week’s “Diggin’ Through the Crates” had to be a reference to 300. Most casual fans might not know that before Gerard Butler was dining in hell, 300 was a mini-series run published by Dark Horse Comics in 1999 written by Frank Miller, the same creative genius behind Sin City, The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. Not only does today mark the return of 300 to the theaters, but it also marks the return of Lupe Fiasco to “DTC.” A few months ago, Lupe made the pages of Hush for his Wolverine references. We try to switch up the artists as much as we can, but this was the best Spartan/300 reference out there – And believe me, there were plenty to choose from.

Just to catch some people up, the scene in 300 that Lupe is referencing is when a Persian messenger comes to relay a message to the King of Sparta, Leonidas. The message is this: we own you now; lay down your arms, kneel before us, and we won’t slaughter your men and enslave your children. It sounded like quite the raw deal, as Leonidas thought, and so he showed his hospitality by kicking the messenger down a giant well. Aside from being one crowd-pleasing moment, it’s also a sentiment that resonates within the Hip-Hop community.

In poor, urban communities like the ones Wasalu Jaco (Lupe) grew up in, there’s always somebody coming in to take what you and yours have. This might surprise you, but a lot of the time, that doesn’t always come in the shape of peers. The Athenians and Spartans frequently butt heads. They fought with each other for the dominance of Greece multiple times. When the Persian empire came to their doorstep, both were out-powered by the unstoppable force.

Today, gentrification and police abuse are the Xerxes and prison is the new slavery (oh yeah, I went there). Young black men are constantly antagonized by the police officers and ridiculed by white wealth. It’s no surprise that Hip-Hop artists gravitate towards being able to tell somebody to get the hell out of their home.

Fun Fact:

The line “They wanna be fiascoes, reproduce his failures” is a clever play on words, as the word “fiasco” is actually Greek for failure. Lupe also references Marcus Aurelius, a Greek philosopher that the Spartans saw as a personification for weakness. You can tell Lupe really does his homework.

Diggin’ Through the Crates: Lupe Fiasco “Lupe Back”

Artist: Lupe Fiasco

Song: “Lupe Back”

AlbumFriend of the People: I Fight Evil (2011), a mixtape that followed up his third studio album (Lasers). Free download here.

Lyric: “Reinforced with hardness of Wolverine’s arms with the harshness and overall sharpness”

Meaning/Character Reference:

All you gangsters and hoods out there think you hard? You know what’s really hard?? Adamantium. In Lupe Fiasco’s Black Friday mixtape of 2011, he sets out determined to let the rap world know not only is he coming strong only months after he released his 3rd studio album, Lasers, but he has been putting time and effort into his craft. This mixtape differed quite a bit from Lasers, seeing that much of the studio album contained radio hits and mainstream rhymes, which has never really been Lupe’s style. Friend of the People was no hold barred with lots of strong instrumentals and little to no hooks – just straight up Lupe lyricism and he sets to prove it all with the lyric of the week. Let’s break it down X-Men.

If Lupe can’t shove it through your head that he is lyrically blessed, then he is going to stab it through with his adamantium claws or words or…whatever. He claims that everything he puts out is strong, reinforced, and he can back it all up because the only thing that goes as hard as Lupe, is the claws of The Wolverine. We appreciate the nerdy-ness of this line due to the fact that Lupe seems to understand that Wolverine’s claws aren’t made out of adamantium, but rather only reinforced by it. Score one to Mr. Fiasco! Similar to Logan’s claws, Lupe’s rhymes not only go hard, but they are sharp. Over the years Lupe has gained the reputation of being a conscious, smart rapper. This is prevalent in other songs and lyrics such as his hit song “Dumb it Down” and a more recent lyric from SLR2: “Go to Harvard to be a Lupe Stan,” shout out to Eminem. His lyrics cannot be taken lightly, his intelligence rap requires you to re-read the lyrics over and over and use your best detective skills to decipher the meanings. So basically if you were to fight Wolverine in a one-on-one battle the best weapon you can bring is Lupe Fiasco’s rhymebook. I would pay good money to see that fight! I guess if the pen is mightier than the sword, can we infer that the words are mightier than the claws…sure why not!

astonishing xmen wolverine are you a beer

 Written by Evan Lowe